Silva now a must-see attraction
For years the dominant UFC middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, found himself singled out as an unusually uncharismatic champion who struggled to connect with fans in a meaningful way.
Silva’s pay-per-view defenses against opponents such as Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson and Patrick Cote did not sell well and hardly set the world alight at the box office. Even the with UFC giving Silva the hard sell, billing him as “The Pound-for-Pound King,” they could not help dramatically improve his marketability.
But then came UFC 101 where Forrest Griffin with all his heart and aggressiveness played right into the hands of the foremost counterpuncher in MMA history. Not only did Silva pick apart the original winner of The Ultimate Fighter show with brutal aplomb, but toward the end of their short match he showed complete disdain for Griffin by staying in the pocket, dropping his hands and daring the former light heavyweight champion to punch him.
So dominant was the performance that having entered the Octagon to a chorus of boos, Silva would be cheered wildly by the fans at ringside when the result was announced.
His new fan-favorite status would be short lived, as in his next fight Silva would enrage the MMA world with a bizarre performance against Demian Maia.
Having taken offense at something that Maia said in the buildup to the fight, Silva humiliated him in the first three rounds. Silva would openly mock the former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion, daring him to engage standing up by dropping to one knee and running around the Octagon. He would also get through Maia’s kickboxing guard at will, hitting the challenger with flashy strikes from a variety of angles. While Silva would tire and do little in the last two rounds, he had shown that his skills and unpredictability were at level way above anybody else.
Despite being threatened with being fired by UFC president Dana White, Silva seemed confused by the controversy and was utterly unrepentant in post-fight interviews. The politeness that had once been his trademark gave way to a strange arrogance that made so many fans desperate to see someone beat him.
His match with Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 would almost grant them their wish, as Silva took a beating at the hands of a challenger who was stylistically well-suited to exploit the champion’s poor takedown defense. But Silva showed tremendous heart to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by submitting Sonnen with a triangle choke in the fifth round. Silva would go on to boast that he had only ever wanted to beat Sonnen by submission to avenge what the American had said about his jiu-jitsu coaches the Nogueira brothers.
And that brings us to UFC 126, with Anderson Silva defending his middleweight title against Vitor Belfort. Just like all the events he has fought in the past two years, the event will be a financial success, with tickets having sold out weeks in advance and pay-per-view buys predicted to be high. A huge crowd gathered on Friday to watch the weigh-in, comparable to the biggest Vegas shows in the organization’s history.
Long gone are the days when people asked why people didn’t care about Anderson Silva. Now he’s one of the most exciting and talked-about fighters in the UFC. Whether it’s his latest outburst or the ever closer possibility of him fighting Georges St. Pierre, he is at the center of attention in the MMA world. And in large part that is because over the past two years he has became a real character, moving from being bland and inoffensive to being one of the most unpredictable and polarizing characters in the sport today.
It’s not just the fans who have noticed, with Belfort making the point that while Silva’s a nice guy in private, when he gets near a fighter he puts on the “mask” of a bad guy to help get people excited. That Silva responded by actually wearing a mask to the weigh-in and seemingly hurling insults at Belfort in the staredown only goes to prove the point.
As Silva said after the confrontation, “These people are going to get what they came for … these people want a show.”